Haunted House

by

07/19/2020

Neighborhood: Flushing

In the beginning, it was an ordinary house on an ordinary street in Flushing, Queens, just around the corner from ours. There was an older girl, Mary Ann, who was our sometime babysitter, and a younger boy, Johnny, who was several years older than I. 

A cherished childhood memory of mine concerns an afternoon (though there may have been more than one) in the basement of the house, when we lay on our bellies beneath a ping-pong table, shooting arrows at a bull’s eye attached to (yes) a bale of hay. They were real arrows, and Johnny had a real wooden long bow, taut and strong, while I had a far smaller, flimsier plastic one suitable to my stature and, I suppose, my gender. He let me take an arrow home, which alerted my mother to our rather dangerous game. Strangely enough, I don’t recall any serious alarm on her part. Nor did anyone seem to think twice, in those days, about a little girl being alone in the basement of an older boy’s house, beyond, I mean, his possibly trying to shoot an apple off my head or something. Whatever questions it might raise now, it’s a fond memory for me. 

It seemed to me an altogether ordinary home, except that Johnny had no daddy. The man of the house was gone or dead. Oh, and his mom was an older, grandmotherly sort, compared to the other, mostly very young mothers on the block.

I lost track of the Loggi family at some point in my teens, and only later learned that Johnny had died in a motorcycle accident, when he was no older than twenty or so. Sad news. But I don’t think anyone from my family went to pay their respects. Our families weren’t friends like that anymore, if they’d ever been. It’s possible, too, that my parents had already moved away by then. In any case, after that, it was Mary Ann living with her mother.

Much, much later—I was already grown up, with an apartment in Manhattan and a family of my own—local reports from my former neighborhood had Mary Ann all alone in the old place (her mother evidently having passed away, no one seemed to know when) and letting the property “go to hell,” a phrase my mother surely got from the gossips. 

Weeds and wildflowers choked the lawns, front and back. Untrimmed hedges overwhelmed the driveway, and uncut bushes obliterated the narrow path on the other side of the house, which itself looked sadly neglected: stoops missing bricks, paint peeling, window frames sagging, gutters filled with leaves, and advertising circulars accumulated, blowing here and there. 

The blinds and curtains were always drawn. Mary Ann rarely went out, people said, and when she did, it was on a rickety vintage bicycle. Her long, beautiful light brown hair had gone stringy salt and pepper. She looks like a witch, they said. God knows what’s going on in there, they said: It’s like a haunted house.

It was only a matter of time before everyone was talking about The Haunted House of 67th Avenue, where a witch lived with the spirits of her mother and brother (and her long-lost father?) along with what were reputed to be dozens of stray cats she’d taken in over the years.

To the best of my recollection, she’d been a quite lovely young woman. And soft spoken, warm, affectionate; truly the nicest. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could think of her as having become a witch in her later years. Not that she was so very much older than I. You know how it is, baby sitters seem to be adults when you’re a child, but turn out to be no more than five or ten years your senior 

It’s true that where she lived was a rather dark, rambling, old-fashioned sort of house, cellar to attic, compared to our small ranch, which was newly built when my parents bought it. But there was nothing scary about it, not when I’d visited as a girl. No, I personally felt that if you were going to fantasize her into a fairy tale, Mary Ann was better cast as an aging princess, possibly held captive by a spell someone else—her family or her own personal ghosts—had conjured. Those burgeoning briars and brambles were classic elements of such a story, slowly growing thicker, taller, surrounding and entirely embracing the princess’ realm, shielding her from the prying public eye, keeping her safe in her own little world.

My fantasy was a nice corrective, perhaps, but I was certainly aware this was an absurdly romantic interpretation of whatever had induced Mary Ann to stay in the house and spend her life alone there. Inspired by the sweet person I remembered, it didn’t begin to speak to the reality of her isolated existence. And I wanted to know what had actually happened to her, beyond the second hand whisperings. I started to think about taking the trip out to Flushing and knocking on Mary Ann’s door (the bell was evidently long broken). I had this idea that she would remember and welcome me, a woman who wasn’t  deterred by wagging tongues or an overgrown yard. I told myself I was going to do it, and soon.

I never made that trip. Sightings of her on her bike grew rarer, then ceased altogether. We heard nothing further about her until we learned of her death, many months after it occurred. I don’t know what became of her collection of cats. Whoever bought the property did what is now routinely done in that part of Queens, razing the home with its good old bones, and building a cheesy McMansion on the too small lot.

Years earlier, we’d sold my maternal grandmother’s adorable pink cottage in Whitestone to people who told us they’d just fallen in love with the house—only to turn around, tear it down, and build a multi-family monstrosity for the rental income. We’ve never been back after our first shocking drive-by.

I haven’t gone to see what’s become of the old Loggi property either. I’m much happier to think of it the way it was, filled with memories and Mary Ann and her alleged menagerie, a houseful of neighbors just around the corner from the only home I still dream of myself.

***

Susan Volchok has published widely in journals and anthologies ranging from the Virginia Quarterly and the Kenyon Review to Best American Erotica; in mainstream magazines and newspapers including the New York Times; and online at n+1, Pangyrus, The Common, and The Literary Bohemian, among other sites. This is her third story for Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood. Susan has lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan forever. 

Comments
Rate Story
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading...

§ 2 Responses to “Haunted House”

  • Guy Scalzi says:

    I enjoyed the story. As promised in the title, the house remained the main character throughout the story. People were described and morphed into older versions of themselves but the house persisted. You’re left to wonder about it’s current condition. Maybe it escaped the real estate frenzy for ever larger houses, was renovated and now has a new family. I can only imagine how many “haunted houses” and apartments the Trump virus disaster will leave behind.

  • Ryan Swanson says:

    Hi Suzan! As you know, growing up in the rural Texas Panhandle, houses like this with their affiliated stories are on the tongues of every local. I suppose we all take if for granted how ubiquitous these tales are. I know of many. They previous commenter made an excellent point of the house being the main character. But there are at least two tragedies I see: first, your poor pink farm house. To have someone lie about their “love” of the land only to turn it into a cash farm; secondly, the missed opportunity to say “hello” to a dear old friend. But life has yet to prove itself to be fair. It’s one of my favorite pieces of yours I’ve read: pathos, nostalgia, love of an old family for who they ARE! Beautifully done.-Ryan

§ Leave a Reply

Other Stories You May Like

Nearby Flushing Stories

As Elevators Shrink

by

When had the elevator gotten so small?When I was ten and living on the top floor of a building in [...]

You’re Out of the Night

by

On Match.com, Ken’s moniker was “Dull.” He wrote that among his favorite things were office carpeting, spam, and waiting rooms.“I [...]

World Series

by

When I was thirteen years old and in the seventh grade, I loved to go to Shea Stadium, home of [...]

Citi Something-else Place

by

“Citi Field,” the New York Mets new home, is a misnomer. Someone needs to coin a word to describe [...]

Learning to Drive

by

I am learning to drive for the second time. On Sundays, I take classes at “Learn-Rite,” a school in Flushing. [...]